The Lincoln Letter, William Martin, Tom Doherty Associates Publishing, 450 pages, one map, $25.99.
In a novel that is both clever and precariously balanced, William Martin offers two plots which are separated by 150 years. Archivist Peter Fallon and media consultant Evangeline Carrrington are modern treasure hunters who are on the trail of a pocket diary kept by Abraham Lincoln which he lost in the military telegraph office during 1862. Does it contain Lincoln's private thoughts as he contemplates the emancipation of those slaves held by Southerners in rebellion?
Fallon has found a letter written by Lincoln that hints that the diary existed. Is waiting to be found? Scholars from different academic camps and multi-millionaires with political agendas are on the diary's trail. Some want the journal for political prestige, symbolic value, or in order to denigrate Lincoln and take him off his pedestal. Some hope that the diary reveals the dark truth about Lincoln's emancipation proclamation that may enhance or destroy certain scholars' and politicans' reputations.
In 1862 Lieutenant Halsey Hutchison, wounded veteran of an 1861 battle is a telegrapher and courier in the military telegraph office that Lincoln frequently visits. Upon finding Lincoln's pocket diary, he gaines new adversaries: Pinkerton detectives who may be involved in a coup d'etate with McClellan at its center, a brothel owner who has a lot of politicans in his pocket, and an abolitionist who seeks to keep the diary out of the hands of proslavery Democratic politicians.
The 1862 setting allows for a certain frequency in the use of guns and knives that the 2012 does not allow. Both the 1862 and the modern Washington D.C. are well described and the characters manners and behaviors reflect the eras. African Americans are key characters in both eras. Civil War reenactors inhabit the modern era. Martin handles the two plots well; neither gets too far behind or too far ahead of the other. Characters are unique to their era. Overall, The Lincoln Letter page turner in which readers are offered fine descriptions of Washington D.C. in 1862 and 2012.